I’m reading a wonderful book called the Riddle of the Labyrinth by Margalit Fox. It’s a detective story of sorts, about the people who deciphered the written language of ancient Crete, called Linear B. It looks like this:
Linear B is a very early written language, dating from 1450 BCE. Clay tablets inscribed with Linear B were discovered on Crete around 1901 but it wasn’t deciphered for another 50 years. This script was so old that it didn’t seem to come from any other known language. There wasn’t a Rosetta Stone lying around to make things easier. All I can say is that I’m glad no one was waiting on me to decipher it. That’s real work! Pretty though, isn’t it?
The Minoans developed the language in order to keep track of things, goats and cows and sheep, chariot wheels and pots. They’d come to a point where they had to write down what they knew or risk forgetting it forever. And they wanted other people to share this knowledge. I love these beautiful little symbols, and I love the fact that some of them are syllables and some are pictures of what they represent.
One of the reasons the language resisted translation is because some of the people working on deciphering it wanted to attach sound to the signs and make it a spoken language again. The successful code breakers were the people who didn’t let their emotions get in the way.
Anyway, it got me to thinking about language and memory, what we keep private and what we reveal. Sometimes we are driven to write in order to remember the most beautiful events, other times the most terrible.
As a human being, I value those times when emotion gets in the way and we are compelled to create things that are charged with all the beauty and horror that we’ve seen, all the questions our experiences have raised. All our secrets. As much as I want to preserve these events in my own life so they aren’t forgotten, I may not want to look them in the face every day. One of the reasons I work with wax is that the surface can be somewhat distinct from the idea, and that extra misty layer can protect the image from the world, as well as protect the world from the image.
So here’s a sketch of five events that happened to me in the last year—though not in actual Linear B. One is happy—going to the beach, another is sad—losing my cat. Another is about bees. You get the idea. Think of it has encoding rather than deciphering, of making plain language secret again. I swear I’m going to get out to the studio this weekend and slap some wax on this sucker.
Encaustic Materials Handbook update.
Amazon tells me that almost 250 copies were downloaded during the promo period last week! I myself only downloaded it once, so the other copies had to be you guys. That a couple hundred more than I thought possible! Now if only some absolute strangers would buy a copy….